by Jill L. Ferguson
Nacho, my Australian Cattle dog, was rescued from a high-stress situation where he lived with six other dogs, a few cats, and other animals in small house with a postage stamp-sized yard. While he was the only dog in his new home, he was aggressive towards strangers (which meant everyone but the household members), possessed oodles of pent-up energy, and was in need of quality human time and calm, loving understanding.
I have had canine kids for a lot longer than I have had the two-footed variety. My first husband and I lived for 13 years with two Shetland Sheepdogs for whom we threw birthday parties. Mattie and Pumpkin loved the attention, the special cupcakes, and occasional licks of Haagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream that one of my colleagues snuck them on his spoon. When their birthdays rolled around during the years after they succumbed to cancer and Cushing’s Disease, respectively, I missed those joyous occasions as much as I missed the clicking of their nails on the hardwood floors and their barks at squirrels.
When I met my second husband, Nacho, and the three teenagers that would become my stepchildren, I knew that one way to help Nacho heal and thrive was to show him how much he was cherished. So I celebrated his birthday by crafting cupcakes from his favorite ingredients, singing “Happy Birthday” to him, and then “gifting” him with one cupcake per day for nine days (as the recipe made nine cakes).
Since adopting Nacho, I have fed him a mostly grain-free diet. While his birthday cupcakes and homemade biscuits are not grain-free, I’ve tried to minimize the flour and oats in his food. He seems to understand when I’m mixing ingredients for him, as he sits in the kitchen by my feet, looking expectant. (His usual place while I’m cooking is in the doorway.)
The special cupcakes and home-cooked treats, along with the hours we’ve spent together, have changed Nacho’s personality and what seems to be his outlook. He is no longer high-strung and he doesn’t act vicious to anyone. Nacho is affectionate and my constant companion, and he seems to understand that he’s not just a dog, but he is an invaluable and valued family member.
To make cupcakes and homemade dog treats for your valued family member on his birthday or any day, follow the recipes below:
Nacho’s Birthday Cupcakes
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 mashed banana
- 1 cup shredded apple or carrots, or combination of both
- 2/3 cup flour (a gluten-free rice flour blend is what we use)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/3 cup quick cooking oats
1 box of shaped dog treats (like Bark Bars or the grain-free ones from Buddy Biscuits) or homemade bone-shaped treats (Nacho’s favorite recipe is below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Either lightly oil muffin tins or line with papers. In a bowl, mix together the flour, oats, and baking soda, and then add the other ingredients, stirring until it is all combined. Batter will be thick.
Fill each muffin tin three-quarters full. Insert one dog treat per muffin into the batter (or place atop the batter, if you like).
Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out mostly clean. Muffin tops will be golden brown.
Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
Once cool, remove muffin paper, if you used them, before feeding to your canine family member.
Nacho’s Favorite Homemade Dog Biscuits
- 2 cups flour
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup canned pumpkin
- ½ cup natural peanut butter
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together all of the ingredients, mixing well. Flour a flat surface (counter or a pastry mat), and then pat or roll dough onto this surface until the dough is ½-inch thick. Use a bone-shaped cookie cutter (or any shape you prefer). Transfer cut biscuits to an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in the oven until hard, approximately 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. These keep well in air-tight containers or they can be frozen. Recipe makes about 4 dozen, depending on the size of the cookie cutter.
To pair your birthday treats with some extra physical activity and bonding time, check out our five fun (and free!) ideas that will get you and your pup moving together.